Is the Big East a Big Deal for Creighton?

The campus of Creighton University in Omaha (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)
A prospective student and parent tour the Creighton campus (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)
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May 31, 2013 - 6:30am

On July 1, Creighton University officially becomes a member of the reconfigured Big East conference. It is a move that will align the current Missouri Valley Conference school with men’s basketball powerhouses like Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. It’s a good move for a basketball team that’s been rated nationally, returns an All-American player in Doug McDermott and has made noise in the NCAA tournament. It is also a move that may open some non-basketball doors for Creighton.


Conference reshuffling of this type has been rampant in recent years. Brad Wolverton covers this nationally as a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“It’s really hard to measure the impact of a move like this, but there seems to be lots of benefits and this probably explains why lots of schools do this and these presidents are somewhat obsessed with jumping from one institution to another,” Wolverton said.

He adds this is likely a good move for Creighton.

“When you look at the list of the new Big East and if you’re affiliating yourself with places like Georgetown or Villanova, high profile academic institutions, Creighton is an outstanding institution, but a lot of people haven’t heard of it,” Wolverton said. “When you put them in the mix now with these other schools, I think it gives them a lot better chance to rise and kind of get a national reputation.”

Fr. Timothy Lannon (Photo courtesy of Creighton University)

“I think one of the biggest things when I deal with the conference change is to really leverage this opportunity,” said Fr. Timothy Lannon, Creighton University president.

A Creighton graduate, Lannon sees three major non-athletic opportunities connected with the move to the Big East.

“Our recognition will grow I think dramatically just by our presence on the sports page, which will be big,” Lannon said. “I think it’ll help us with our donor base in regard to a greater excitement I think for our alums that live on the East Coast and Chicago, but mostly on the East Coast. A greater excitement on their part and hopefully in turn as we work on this, a greater interest in terms of a donations to the university even more so than what they’ve done. Probably the biggest opportunity would be admissions because with this growing awareness of Creighton on the East Coast, that will help us considerably.”

“I think probably within the next 18 months, our primary focus for recruitment purposes is going to be in that Chicago and Milwaukee area and then we’ll branch out probably after we have a season underneath our belt in the Big East,” said Mary Chase, Creighton’s associate vice president for enrollment.

Chase said branching out could include more emphasis on areas like Washington D.C., Maryland, Providence and Boston. “It isn’t as if we don’t have a presence in those areas, it just I think will become more of a greater presence given the name recognition,” Chase added.

With close to 8,000 students, Creighton is smaller than most of the schools in the new Big East. DePaul and St. John’s each have more than 20,000 students. Butler, the only non-Catholic member, and Providence enroll less than 5,000 students.

Rick Virgin, who oversees fundraising and alumni relations at Creighton, hopes the change will help increase more than enrollment.

“Our intention is to use this moment to make sure that we are actually increasing the amount of research dollars that we get,” Virgin said. “I think we have to recognize that it does change people’s perceptions. If you’re looking at some of the large national foundations, this will probably allow us to have a conversation with them whereas we may not have been successful before.”

It’s a move with risks and costs. With the move comes the pressure to compete at a higher level, and Creighton’s athletic department budget is at the bottom of the schools in this new conference, less than half of the more than the $30 million schools like Georgetown spend each year. New revenue from a $3 million a year television contract will help, but there’s work to be done.

“Do we need to jump up to $15 million additional right away? No we need to ramp up to that,” Virgin said.

“Looking at traveling, looking at new personnel, looking at making sure our salaries are competitive in the retention of our coaches, at this point we still see us able to do all those things in light of the additional dollars coming at us and being slightly positive at the end of each year or at the minimum, neutral,” Lannon added.

Creighton’s move to the new Big East Conference happened so quickly a lot of the planning is still a work in progress, including possibly adding additional staff to take advantage of the transition. There is confidence, though, this move that may have mainly been driven by basketball will score other points in the years to come.


MEMBERS OF THE "NEW" BIG EAST CONFERENCE

 LocationEnrollmentEndowment (millions)
Butler Univ.Indianapolis, IN4,667$158
Creighton Univ.Omaha, NE7,730$375
DePaul Univ.Chicago, IL25,398$414
Georgetown Univ.Washington, DC16,437$1,009
Marquette Univ.Milwaukee, WI11,599$401
Providence CollegeProvidence, RI4,585$167
St. John's Univ.New York, NY21,354$303
Seton Hall Univ.South Orange, NJ9,745$163
Villanova Univ.Villanova, PA10,482$370
Xavier Univ.Cincinnati, OH6,584$119

 

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